The almost simultaneous release of two Neil Young DVD’s is a sage move on the part of the Canadian rock icon. Not only does his current touring heighten the visibility of their respective releases, but each film illuminates his work from a different perspective. The arcane quasi-comedy Human Highway has a direct connection with the topical themes Young’s been focusing on the last few years (including the 2016 ‘live’ album Earth), while the brilliant semi-conceptual concert documentary Rust Never Sleeps serves a similar purpose, albeit in a different direction: if nothing else, this vintage performance with Crazy Horse will mollify those fans hungry for such content and not getting it all enough of it these days in concert, but it continues to stand on its own terms as a brilliant piece.
Watching and hearing the re-released version of the full-length performance film from San Francisco’s Cow Palace during the 1978 tour of Neil and The Horse finds the quartet flush with inspiration from the new chemistry begun in 1975 with Zuma (the first album featuring the participation of guitarist/vocalist Frank Sampedro in place of the late Danny Whitten). Both audio and video are noticeably improved from the previous DVD release and while there’s no question about the usage of modern technology, it’s more than a little odd, not to mention frustrating, that this reissue lacks the bonus features of the previously release from 2002 DVD, including photos, lyrics and the actual script for the film.
And not only is this content missing from the remastered DVD itself, there are no links to on-line resources for the same pieces as with The Neil Young Archives Vol. 1 . Make no mistake, the additional sonic and visual clarity that may be or greater or lesser insignificance for audio/videophiles, completists and collectors, but there’s a trade-off to be made. That said, there’s no denying the creative stage production of the Rust Never Sleeps concert—giant amp totems on stage, roadies out of Star Wars—plus its inclusion of a splendid cross-section of classic Neil Young material (from “The Loner” to “After the Gold Rush” to “Powderfinger”): this marks an important era of Young’s career because it so resoundingly represented a distinct return to form for the former Buffalo Springfielder and friend of Crosby Stills & Nash following his emergence from traveling in ‘the ditch’ and the trilogy that adventure spawned (Tonight’s the Night, Time Fades Away, On the Beach).
But there’s also an additional enigma surrounding the availability of Rust Never Sleeps in its current form. Which may be something of a moot point, except that, in typical and longstanding Neil Young fashion, street dates changed more than once, which may in fact have made this title, like its companion piece, available on dates other than advertised, in both DVD and Blu-ray formats. It’s worth contemplating whether that’s the idiosyncratic musician’s means of garnering publicity (not to mention enhancing his image) without any cost in either financial or aesthetic terms. So, in a variety of ways, the Neil Young myth, such as it is, remains an undeniable aspect of these video releases, slightly more so in terms of Rust Never Sleeps because that project was so fully realized.